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2. Why is Shayna obsessed with weddings? What does her family history and upbringing explain about her desperate need to belong to the Orthodox community? Why does she keep her non-Orthodox past a secret? Why does she succumb to depression later in the novel?
3. Who is the ideal or intended audience of this novel? Does it seem that Mirvis wants to create a view of this closed community for the outside world or show the Orthodox community a reflection of itself? How do the ideas she explores in the novel about belonging and not belonging, feeling trapped or stifled by one’s family, and the yearning for authentic spirituality move beyond the particular community that she describes?
4. All four people in the Miller family have different approaches to their religious life. How would you describe each one? How successful is Naomi in mediating among the members of her family? Why does she turn to ritual and celebration to heal her family’s differences when psychology fails?
5. When we meet Tzippy, she is simultaneously dreaming of rebellion against her mother and raging against her unmarried fate. As the novel ends, she is married and pregnant. She hasn’t stepped outside the role for which her family prepared her, but she has changed. How is she different, and what kind of experience has she gained? Does the novel suggest that she will live life on her own terms, within the parameters of Orthodoxy, and that she and Baruch will forge a better partnership than her own parents did?
6. Ilana, in questioning the restrictions of Orthodox family life, finds a potential ally in her father. Is the Miller family splitting in two, with Naomi and Baruch on one side, Joel and Ilana on the other? What aspects of the religious life does Ilana find most difficult to accept? Why is taking off her shirt in public such an outrageous act of rebellion? Why does she feel betrayed by her brother?
7. What impression does Mirvis give of the delicate matter of sexuality in the courtship of Orthodox couples? Once married, how do Baruch and Tzippy adjust to their new intimacy?
8. How does the novel show the distance between the women’s and men’s spheres of responsibility in the Orthodox community? Why are the ways of the household, cooking, and child-rearing so crucial to passing on the Orthodox way of life? What aspects of Orthodox life, as described in the novel, might present the most difficult challenges to an educated woman?
9. How does Mirvis evoke the special feeling of the Sabbath? What is the significance, for Joel, of arriving home late for Shabbos [pp. 223–24]? How does this event bring him and Ilana closer together? What is the significance, for Naomi, of Joel’s late arrival?
10. Why is Naomi driven to take such an active role in seeking meaning and answers in her life? What does she expect to find in books, meditation, and seminars on Jewish spirituality [pp. 229–33]? What is admirable about her as a character?
11. What are the challenges to children living in a society that is as insular as the community depicted in The Outside World? How are the children’s needs for independence or self-determination addressed? How does Mirvis make readers feel the communal pressure toward conformity? How much room is there for dissent or individuality?
12. Why has Mirvis chosen The Outside World as a title? What is “the outside world” for Orthodox Jews? How does the outside world figure in the novel? Which characters most strongly feel the lure or the pressure of the outside world?
13. At what points in the story does Mirvis’s compassion for her characters and her love of Jewish ritual come across most strongly?
14. Mirvis brings a good deal of humor to her writing. Which incidents, for you, were most amusing?
15. Does the ending of the novel suggest that Tzippy will take an active role in healing her own family’s troubles—her mother’s despondency, her father’s dangerously unrealistic dreams, her unguided little sisters? Or will she return to Memphis and take up her own family life, keeping a distance from her difficult parents?
Posted October 5, 2012
Posted June 3, 2012
Posted April 25, 2012
Loved all tge charactors and how they all are so interwoven. A great read I really enjoyed!! Tzippy is wonderful, as you can just feel what she is going through.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 25, 2008
Posted March 31, 2004
I loved Tova Mirvis¿ widely anticipated second novel, The Outside World. With great wit, deep insight, and gentle humor, Mirvis has created a living and breathing cast of characters who invite the reader to share in their touching and often laugh-out-loud funny journeys toward self-realization. The book brilliantly captures the dynamic of parents and children as children mature and begin to establish their own identities. Quite subtly, and in ways that only good fiction can, the novel presents a commentary on the sexism that often masquerades as religion. Bryan¿s interactions with his sister Ilana and his mother Naomi offer some of the book¿s more humorous moments, while highlighting the insidious and varied ways in which men quash women¿s voices in the name of religion. The novel also grapples with the sexism buried deep within the myth of the nuclear family. Naomi and Shayna, two mothers marrying off their children, are complex characters whose identity crises are brought about by a combination of inner religious conflict, frustrated housewifery and the end of child-rearing. Shayna defers her dreams to her children through whom she lives vicariously. As her daughter Tzippy leaves the home and slowly severs the close connection with her mother, Shayna is thrust into a depression from which only Tzippy can rouse her. Naomi is no less affected by her children¿s rebellion. Their rejection of her well-researched and carefully planned mothering strategies causes Naomi to question her own identity¿an identity circumscribed by her role as their mother. In short, this is a terrific, funny and insightful book, and a great read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 30, 2004
Mirvis paints a rich tableau of characters, each relating to religion and modernity in a different way. The book is so well-written that you feel the struggle of each person as they try to navigate their way in the 'outside world'. The beauty of Mirvis' work shines through on each page. It is a joy to read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 30, 2004
This book is a masterpiece in writing. Every sentence is a joy to read. The story speaks to the challenges of living a religious life in a modern world but also helps us all remember the simple pleasures of family, history, and tradition. I opened the book and did not close it until it was done. The mental imagery the author creates in every sentence makes the book more like a movie than a novel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 30, 2004
Tova Mirvis¿ ¿The Outside World¿ wonderfully depicts the tensions inherent in a community¿s constant struggle to define its own contours. The primary characters in this novel, a pair of young lovers from different segments of the Orthodox Jewish community, are drawn to each other precisely because their respective backgrounds epitomize the other¿s desires. Baruch (Bryan) is attracted to Tzippy because her family¿s version of their shared religion emphasizes punctilious observance and a more severe break with their contemporary world. Tzippy is attracted to Bryan (Baruch) because his family¿s version of their shared religion allows and encourages a fuller integration with contemporary society. While all of the novel¿s characters struggle to balance their faith against a completely outside non-Jewish world, the young couple illustrates the degree to which the definition of inside and outside in any closed ethnic community is always being negotiated. As each of the novel¿s characters (children and parents) develop and find their way within their communal world, each struggles with a community that encourages conformity by incorporating their own needs and wants into the ¿inside world.¿ As a study of the nature of community and conformity, the novel is an excellent choice for people of all faith and ethnic backgrounds.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 13, 2013
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